SRH vs MI run-fest shows why power-hitting in T20 shouldn’t be reduced to street cricket’s lappas | Cricket News

Julian Wood, the power-hitting coach preparing players for T20

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Here’s a dystopia for all you cricket bowling aficionados. It’s IPL 50. Your icons are no longer around. None of their kind is. A fully AI-automated bowling machine that can simulate all their deliveries for different situations – in powerplay or death overs, after snapping a wicket or being pumped for six, against a pinch hitter or a number 10 – stands in their stead. A lifeless piece of machinery, with no over-the-top reactions after getting clobbered for boundaries. The batters are all that everyone’s talking about. “No, not at all. No. No. No. It’s batter against the bowler, always,” Julian Wood, the power-hitting coach, can’t see it happening.

The new heights of what a team total in T20 may look like don’t surprise Wood. “I don’t think there’s any sport in the world that improves as quickly as batting does in T20 cricket.” All the more reason, he believes, power hitting shouldn’t be reduced to a mere exercise of opening the front leg and having a swing at the ball.

But it’s the specific trait of the game that the Englishman teaches – hitting sixes – that had led to the idea being floated only the other night. With the Mumbai Indians bowlers being mauled down by one Sunrisers Hyderabad batter after another, Ian Bishop, who amassed 279 wickets for the West Indies, had reckoned from the comm box if bowling machines would be more apt to have in the middle. His suggestion was seconded by a cry of desperation from another former tearaway quick, Brett Lee. “Just give the bowlers something,” he’d say after MI batters bludgeoned the SRH bowlers with an equal disregard. To top it all, Pat Cummins’ remark when asked if he thought 278 was chaseable? “Not until we bowled.”

Wood, who has worked with T20 franchises such as Punjab Kings, agrees that the batters have just raised the bar after what he believes was T20 cricket’s ‘434-438’ moment.

“In that game, Jacques Kallis had quipped, ‘They’re 15 runs light.’ 10 overs into their chase, Mumbai could’ve said the same as well,” he says. “That could be the best game in this IPL already. The ceiling has gone further up. Yes, it’s not going to happen in every game.” As it didn’t the other night in Jaipur. “But the hitting levels have gone through the roof. This is what the young players have to be able to do now. Yes, they’ve got to learn their basic foundation but they need to learn this because this is where the game is headed.”

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Method to madness

It’s the unawareness amongst purists, including former-players-turned-commentators who refer to power-hitting as mere slogging – nomenclatured in Indian street cricket as lappa maarna or gaada in Tamil – that gets under Wood’s skin.

“The old players who are in the commentary box, they are legends of the game, they may know batting but they don’t know hitting. There is so much more to it than that. What was 20-30 years ago is no longer the case now. It’s not right saying, ‘Just get your front leg out of the way and swing’. You need to create space. If you don’t create space, you can’t accelerate your hands. It’s how you use your body to hit the ball. Basically, body awareness. You get power from the ground up. And if you get power from the ground up, you’ve got to put something in the ground. After the ball pitches, it bounces, so the batters go up the angle. They don’t get on top of it as much these days. You don’t know how good you have to be to consistently do it. If you were just slogging, it’d come off one in 10. One in 15.”

Furthermore, there is no one proven formula of hitting that can be carbon copied by all. “Big guys can utilize their muscles more. I do a lot of overload stuff with them, a lot of the heavy ball- heavy bats training. I overload their hips because they have a different build. The smaller guys – who haven’t got the muscle – rely heavily on the rhythm and timing of their movement.”

Wood believes a lot of his job is ranging between working on 0.5-one percent of progress among players. “Like Liam Livingstone, do I help him hit the ball hard? No. Because he will hit the ball hard. Exit-velocity for some of these guys doesn’t matter. What I can do is maybe help him hit the ball hard slightly longer. To make it go slightly more distance. So when you get to the top level, it’s that one percent or rather half percent that makes a difference.”

A lot of the concepts Wood tutors come from Baseball. 12 years ago during a holiday in the United States, his meeting with Scott Coolbaugh, head coach for the MLB side Texas Rangers, had forced him to reconsider the ways of hitting in cricket.

“Cricket was just a bit too hand dominant back in the day. Whereas in Baseball, you see a kinetic transfer of energy from the ground up – from the back leg to finally the hands.”

The other phenomenon which caught his attention was “in baseball, batters fail a lot. If you fail 70 percent of the time in baseball, you’ll be in the hall of fame. So you’re basically getting rewarded for failure. But they’re good at hitting the ball when they do.”

Is that a commonality between the two then? Are power hitters in T20 also aware that their chances of failing are going to be more than succeeding? “Yes. They will train according to that now. There’s no point in those guys training to face 60 balls. They’re going to face 10-20, on good days. So your mindset is tailored for that. If you look at franchise cricket, batters will say if they can come off three in seven innings, they’ve done well. In Baseball, if you have a 0.3 average, you’ll be in the hall of fame, if you do that for 10 years. We have a greater skill level than they do, because we can hit the ball 360 degree. Three out of seven is still less than 50 percent. You are failing more than 50 percent of the time. You’re not going to hit their best ball. But you hit their mistakes. If they make mistakes, you make the most of it,” Wood suggests.

But then, comes a game like the one in Hyderabad. When only six of the 40 overs end up without a boundary. “What was unique about the innings, normally you’d get one or two players who come off. Here though, every single player came off. They just kept going. Normally it stops, but it didn’t. A brilliant game that showed how far the hitting levels have come.”

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